RIP to this Alpha-Talent

August 20, 2013, Elmore Leonard Dead at 87


Wilson Mizner described Tinsel Town as “a trip through a sewer in a glass-bottomed boat”, a dream factory where crass commercialism regularly trumps art.  Even so, literary heavyweights like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Evelyn Waugh labored in the lucrative Hollywood trenches as screenwriters.  Beneath the glitz and glamour, grim reality served up plenty of juicy material. Swimming with the showbiz sharks paid off.

I loved the movie Get Shorty.  So did Elmore Leonard. The author of the book-into-movie is the éminence gris of crime fiction.  If I want to read a good story about bad guys, well, Leonard is ’nuff said brilliant.

Elmore Leonard

Hollywood is full of Leonard fans.  Studios have been making movies out of his western stories and crime novels since the 1950s. He might be called a genre writer but he’s taken seriously, very seriously, by the literary crowd. So, how does he do it?



Well, I started this post intending to write about Hollywood novels like The Last Tycoon (Fitzgerald) and The Loved One (Waugh). But I’m both chronically distracted and thoroughly smitten by Elmore.

Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard

Nobody writes openings like Elmore Leonard.

When Chili first came to Miami Beach twelve years ago they were having one of their off-and-on cold winters: thirty-four degrees the day he met Tommy Carlo for lunch at Vesuvio’s on South Collins and had his leather jacket ripped off.

You need to know about this because you need to know why there’s bad blood between Chili Palmer and Ray Bones, the guy who stole his coat and is now his boss—and has ordered him to collect $4,200 from a dead guy. Except the guy didn’t die; he went to Las Vegas with $300,000. So Chili goes to Las Vegas, one thing leads to another, and pretty soon he’s in Los Angeles, hanging out with a movie producer named Harry Zimm and learning what it takes to be a player in Hollywood.

Leonard hits the comic bulls-eye with this laugh-out-loud page turner full of zingy one-liners about a small time loan shark chin-deep in colorful lowlifes.


Be Cool by Elmore Leonard

In the sequel to Get Shorty, Leonard pokes fun at the Hollywood scene and the task of a sequel writer.  He takes readers on a back-side tour of Tinseltown’s other big business—the music industry.

Leonard needed lyrics and inspiration for a fictional band, so he did some schmoozing with singers.  Hanging out at a lounge in L.A., he heard a Stone Coyotes performance and it was love at first sight for this book/band couple.


The Hot Kid by Elmore Leonard
Slick cars, speakeasies, bank robbers and shoot-outs in Oklahoma during the 20s and 30s ~ another joy ride with crackling dialogue and characters that jump off the page. Leonard says of his characters, “I like ’em all, but if one doesn’t work, I’ll have him shot.”


A campy cast, snappy talk, and all the twists and turns I expect, Mr. Paradise is Elmore Leonard at home in Detroit and Master of the Cooliverse.

And then there’s Swag, where you root for the crooks. Killshot has Leonard’s best-ever opening chapter.  Freaky Deaky is full of articulate profane dudes involved in a slippery scheme.  Raylan is about a drily witty cop who shoots villains without blinking an eye.

In Elmore Leonard capers, you always know very soon who killed whom, who is in charge of the scam, what the criminal’s plan is. What fills the novels – joyously, incomparably – is talk.

Do you like characters who stand outside the normal run of things?

Ones that discuss diction?  investigate dialogue?  tell stories?

Are you an Elmore Leonard fan yet?


Meet you here next Sunday.

Toni 8/18/13





For the whole of my reading life, I forced myself to finish every book I cracked open.  Until the day I was plodding through Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine and not knowing what it was about.  Was I being unfair to Louise to leave at the half-way point?  I doubt she’d care.  After all, she won the National Book Critics Circle Award, not me.

There is no accounting for taste ~ we don’t all share the same passions in literature.  But there is accounting for time, and time spent in reading an unappealing book is forever lost.  And, yes, it feels too much like school. You know, the books you had to read as opposed to the kind you couldn’t wait to re-read.  So here’s the big-mamou question ~ why read to the end just to hurl the book across the room?

It used to go against my nature to terminate a relationship with a book. I felt like a quitter for giving up a novel half-way. Love Medicine changed all that.  Yes, I stopped midway through this multigenerational story that spans decades, lives, marriages, loves, and deaths.  I abandoned the Kapshaws and the Larmartines, turned my back on the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota, and ignored the intricate and looping family tree.  It was an agonizing decision, fraught with guilt, but when I finally did it ~ It. Felt. So. Good.

Clinical psychologists say we feel guilt whenever we quit. It goes against how we are built and so we experience anxiety around unfinished activities.

Stopping midway was stressful. But only that first time. Really. Bailing on a book is fiercely liberating.  Especially one that’s as fizzle-prone as low-carb Pepsi and makes you want to take refuge in Green Eggs and Ham.

Some people even brag about doing it. Goodreads members ranked the most initiated but unfinished books of all time.  Top of the list: Catch 22, Joseph Heller’s American Classic.

According to the Goodreads website, about 20% of the books read by its 18 million members are left unfinished.  Here are the ones most dropped in midstream this year:

The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling

Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire



Pandigital eReader

In the age of the e-reader, dropping a book has never been easier.  You don’t even have to get up to grab another off the shelf. Just pull up a new one in seconds, dip in and out, go back later… or not.

Are you an inveterate unfinisher?

How many pages did you read before you put that last book down?

C’mon.  Name names.

Toni 7/12/13

SHORT CUTS: books to read for people with unruly stacks in unlikely places

She’s never written a novel, but she’s read thousands.


Guest Blogger Sue knows that certain books lure us back.  Yes, I know what you’re thinking ~  so many books, so little time, that precarious TBR pile. …….. Vladimir Nabokov had the same dilemma. Yet he was convinced that rereadings were better readings.


When we read a book for the first time the very process of laboriously moving our eyes from left to right, line after line, page after page, this complicated physical work upon the book, the very process of learning in terms of space and time what the book is about, this stands between us and artistic appreciation. When we look at a painting we do not have to move our eyes in a special way even if, as in a book, the picture contains elements of depth and development. The element of time does not really enter in a first contact with a painting. In reading a book, we must have time to acquaint ourselves with it. We have no physical organ (as we have the eye in regard to painting) that takes in the whole picture and then can enjoy its details. But at a second, or third, or fourth reading we do, in a sense, behave towards a book as we do towards a painting.


Young man reading a book Rereading never gets old. Great books get greater. And we are unbelievably lucky to have them. And Guest Blogger Sue, who’s got street cred, just like Vlad.  So…ready for a second run?


Read a classic. Or reread a book you were assigned in high school. Or junior high even. You’ll have a different point of view, that’s for sure. And there are no quizzes, no grades.  🙂 Here in Wilmington, several groups joined forces for their first Big Read, choosing The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Books are available free for the taking, a slim volume, only 180 pages. Library branches all have discussion groups. UNCW offers lectures, discussions, a screening of the movie. The Cameron Art Museum lavishly displays walls and walls of Zelda’s artwork. The museum hosted Eleanor Lanahan to lecture on her famous grandparents, bringing in a dance company presentation of original work based on Zelda’s art, and highlighting musician Gernoldo Frazier with the music of the Roaring ‘20s. Historic Thalian Hall offers a free screening of the 1974 version of the movie starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. Even Old Books on Front Street offered a performance based on Scott’s and Zelda’s letters. Wow! This town is hopping! . So start with The Great Gatsby. Learn through literature about some wild times and lost souls of the Jazz Age, the 1920s in America. . Then move on to Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. You read this one in high school. It is not one of her characteristic very long period novels but a slim volume of under 100 pages. Young Ethan is beaten down by circumstances, one being a drear New England winter. Another being his dour wife, Zenobia. Distant cousin Mattie Silver comes like quicksilver into their lives. Poor Ethan. ……


Cover of Arthur and George by Julian Barnes is not a classic. But Arthur is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who created Sherlock Holmes, surely a classic detective. Barnes gives side-by-side pictures of these disparate young men as they grow to middle age, one from wealth and social standing, the other a half-caste son of a small town vicar. We see Arthur use his Sherlockian talents to right a terrible wrong done to George. An interesting picture of the social strata in late Victorian Britain.



What makes you return to a book?  The prose?  The memories it evokes?   What books do you still love after a second (third? fourth?) reading?

Toni 2/22/13